Young people and parents speak out against scrapping free under-18s travel

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Local London Assembly Member Unmesh Desai AM is backing calls by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) against Government plans to scrap free travel for 11-17 year olds in London.

The Government’s proposed suspension of the concession is one of the terms of its recent bailout of Transport for London (TfL), amidst the Covid-19 outbreak. But London Assembly Members and campaigners opposing the move say it will make life tougher for young Londoners.

At a Plenary meeting on 3 September, the London Assembly passed a motion calling upon the Mayor to continue to lobby the Government to reverse this policy. The motion gained majority support.

Meanwhile a survey launched by CPAG of over 1,000 11-18 year olds and their parents shows public opposition is growing too. Almost half (47%) of parents said the removal of free travel would have a negative impact on household finances, and almost a quarter (24%) of young people said the cut would make them less able to attend the school or college of their choice.

BAME children are particularly negatively impacted, with 72% of BAME children saying they used their zip card to get to school before the pandemic, compared with 61% of their white counterparts. 56% of white young people, and 62% of BAME young people, also say they worry they will have trouble paying for public transport fares as a result of the cut.

TfL, who are in the second round of funding negotiations with the Department for Transport (DfT) say they have warned the Government about the many administrative hurdles in the way of implementing the suspension.

In July, the Government confirmed it would no longer temporarily cancel free transport for children aged ten and under, and that it would push back the remainder of its proposals which would still apply to secondary school and sixth form pupils. The changes are expected to come in for 11-15 year olds from 4 January 2021 and for 16-17 year olds from 1 February 2021.

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A letter to TfL from the Minister for Roads, Buses and Places, Baroness Vere, has specified which young Londoners between 11 and 18 years old will be exempted from the suspension, but the list does not include those eligible for free school meals.

The Mayor previously wrote to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, in June, urging him not to proceed with the blocking of the Zip Card, but this request was met with refusal.

Local London Assembly Member, Unmesh Desai AM, said: “CPAG’s research shows the depth of despair some families are facing at the prospect of these cuts. It’s clear young people and their parents are very worried about the financial impact these plans will have on family budgets, and of course these changes are coming at a time when people are already concerned about their livelihoods because of Covid-19.

“The reality is that the removal of the free travel is going to have a real impact on the ability of some children to attend school, to engage in after school activities and to experience the opportunities London has to offer them.

“What the Government is doing by scrapping free travel for 11-18 year olds is nothing short of cruel. The Government are targeting our children – many of them very vulnerable – to score cheap political points against the Mayor of London.

“I urge them to do the right thing, add this proposal to their bonfire of bad ideas, and protect the futures of young Londoners.”

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